Woman who defied United Methodists’ anti-gay bans seeks reinstatement as pastor

Twenty years ago, Beth Stroud lost her cherished role as a United Methodist pastor in Philadelphia when she was stripped of her ordination. She faced a church trial, where she was convicted of going against “Christian teaching” due to her admission of being in a committed relationship with another woman.

Earlier this month, the United Methodist Church conference made a significant decision by striking down the UMC’s long-standing anti-LGBTQ policies. This decision also paved the way for clergy who were previously ousted due to these policies to seek reinstatement.

Stroud is choosing to take that path, despite the disruption her 2004 ouster caused in her life. Unlike some others who have faced UMC discipline in the past, Stroud remains optimistic that clergy from eastern Pennsylvania will reinstate her pastoral credentials at an upcoming meeting.

As she prepared for a church service last Sunday, Stroud reflected on the significance of her potential reinstatement and became emotional. “It’s incredible how strong that calling still is after 20 years. I genuinely want to come back,” she tearfully expressed.

At 54 years old, she has no immediate plans to return to full-time ministry. Currently, she is wrapping up a three-year teaching position at Princeton University, where she has been instructing writing. However, she is thrilled to be embarking on a new venture this summer as an assistant professor of Christian history at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, which is one of the 13 seminaries operated by the UMC.

Despite her new teaching job, Stroud still desired to have the flexibility and opportunities that come with being an ordained minister, especially as she searched for a congregation near the Delaware, Ohio, campus.

“I believe that a church could find value in my skills and qualifications, particularly in situations where the regular pastor is unavailable, such as celebrating Communion,” she expressed. “These opportunities would hold great significance for me.”

Stroud was certain that she had made the right decision when she finally came to a conclusion.

“It was such a gratifying experience for her to compose that email, expressing her desire to be reinstated,” she expressed. “I am truly dedicated to remaining an active member of the church and contributing to its impactful endeavors in the world.”

However, she faced a difficult decision while closely monitoring the UMC’s discussions on the anti-LGBTQ policies.

“I was overwhelmed with anger when I first thought about the life I could have had,” she expressed. “Being a pastor brought me immense joy, and I excelled at it. If I had been given another 20 years to gain experience, I could have made a significant impact, helping numerous individuals and finding great fulfillment in the process.”

Instead of being a pastor, she dedicated several years to pursuing higher education, working in temporary academic positions to make ends meet. She faced various challenges during this time, including a battle with cancer and a divorce from her wife. However, they managed to co-parent their daughter, who was born in 2005.

Stroud expressed that if she hadn’t been defrocked, her entire life would have taken a different path.

In April 2003, Stroud’s journey towards her removal from the position began when she openly revealed her same-sex relationship to her congregation at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown. Despite being a pastor at the church for four years, her disclosure led to her defrocking. However, the church, in support of Stroud, established a legal fund to aid her defense and even employed her as a lay minister following her defrocking.

After relocating to New Jersey, she embarked on a search for a new church to become a part of. Eventually, she found a home in Turning Point United Methodist Church, a predominantly Black congregation located in Trenton.

During the Sunday service, Stroud found herself sitting in the pews when she received a special acknowledgment from the pastor of Turning Point, Rupert Hall.

Hall expressed his gratitude for the presence of a remarkable individual who has been an integral part of Turning Point for the past 15 years. He emphasized that this individual has played a significant role in providing love, support, and active involvement within the organization.

Beth’s credentials as a pastor were revoked by the United Methodist Church, and she has gained global recognition as a martyr for LGBTQ individuals who identify themselves as God’s children.

The crowd erupted in cheers as Hall announced that there was hope for Stroud’s reinstatement.

The UMC does not have comprehensive data on the number of clergy who have been defrocked for defying anti-LGBTQ bans, nor does it have information on the potential number of reinstatements.

Jimmy Creech, who, like Stroud, was expelled from the UMC many years ago, won’t be availing himself of this choice. In 1999, after officiating a same-sex union ceremony in North Carolina, a church court jury revoked his clergy credentials.

Creech expressed his gratitude for the recent decision made by the General Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. The conference passed a legislation that enables pastors who have been defrocked, like him, to be reinstated.

“This act symbolizes reconciliation and restorative justice, aiming to mend the fragmented Church community,” shared Creech, who previously expressed skepticism towards the possibility of such a development.

Creech, 79, has made it clear that he has no intention of seeking reinstatement.

In an email response, he expressed his contentment with the fact that the Church now acknowledges and supports this provision. He also mentioned that he does not currently serve in a pastoral role and, therefore, does not believe that reinstating his ordination would be suitable.

Creech became an ordained minister in 1970 and went on to serve in different parishes in his home state of North Carolina.

In 1984, the UMC General Conference passed a law that prohibited individuals who identified as “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from serving in ministry. This decision had a profound impact on Reverend Creech’s congregation, as one of its members tearfully confided in him that he was gay and felt compelled to leave the UMC.

Creech continued his work in ministry, frequently being invited to serve as a guest preacher in churches across the nation.

“I came to the realization that I haven’t changed as a person. I still hold my identity as a pastor, as the church never stripped that away from me. However, what it did take away was a mere title.”

Amy DeLong, a lesbian pastor from Wisconsin, has been a tireless advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in the UMC. Over the years, she has dedicated herself to the cause, forming an advocacy organization, participating in protests against the bans at General Conferences, and even conducting a same-sex union. Despite facing adversity, Amy remained steadfast in her beliefs and commitment. In 2011, she underwent a church trial as a result of her actions and was suspended from ministry for 20 days. However, this setback didn’t deter her from continuing her fight for equality.

In 2019, she witnessed the bans being upheld once again during that year’s UMC General Conference. However, by 2021, she had reached her breaking point. After serving as a UMC minister for almost twenty-five years, DeLong decided to take early retirement.

“I couldn’t bear the hypocrisy any longer,” DeLong stated, highlighting her decision to no longer identify as a Methodist. She firmly believes that the harm caused by the church outweighs any perceived good. Consequently, she no longer allows them to influence or hold authority over her.”

DeLong appreciates the lifting of the UMC’s bans, but points out that LGBTQ pastors within the church continue to experience inequalities.

“I’m glad that language is no longer in existence. It was something that should have never defined us,” she expressed. “However, the constant acts of violence without reason burden me deeply.”

The UMC was the final major mainline Protestant denomination to revoke policies that excluded LGBTQ individuals from marriage and ministry. LGBTQ religious members played a vital role in advocating for change across various denominations. This is exemplified by the Shower of Stoles, an exhibit under the care of the National LGBTQ Task Force. The exhibit showcases liturgical vestments worn by activist clergy and members from the UMC, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and other churches.

Reference Article

Avatar photo
MBS Staff
Articles: 6580

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *